Going on the audience reaction to The Crucible's latest show, it's easy to see why Hobson's Choice has endured in popularity. The tale of a Salford shoe-shop owner coming to terms with his three daughters becoming young women is rich with the kind of characters and humour that endure, with a strong, familiar, Northern sensibility at its heart that raises much laughter from the audience.
This latest adaptation is carried admirably by Zoe Waites as the formidable Maggie, alongside a wonderful turn from Philip McGinley as Will Mossop, whose facial expressions are a delight and who manages to portray Will's bewilderment and growing confidence wonderfully throughout. The two of them are the soul of this piece and keep the audience rooting for them. As Hobson, Barrie Rutter provides very physical humour and is the source of many of the play's laughs, though sometimes his performance veers into caricature, meaning the character ends up being one we struggle to feel much pity, anger or sympathy for.
The supporting cast includes some strong work from Harry Waller, Lennox Greaves and George Banks in the roles of Albert, Jim and Fred. However, other supporting characters, such as Maggie's sisters Alice and Vickey, and the small cameo parts of Ada Figgins and Mrs Hepworth, feel almost pantomime with no real sense of light and shade to the larger-than-life performances - a fault, perhaps, of the direction.
Overall, the production doesn't feel as vibrant or exciting as many recent offerings on the Crucible's main stage. The pacing of the play falls flat in many places with too many static scenes of characters talking and little happening. The comedic moments are played for all they're worth, but the drama inbetween is not developed sufficiently to enable the audience to feel truly invested in this story, whilst the set design is effective but less interesting than that of recent Crucible hits Hamlet, Alice or Enemy of the People.
That's not to say the show isn't enjoyable - the source material is good and the three leads very watchable. There is much to laugh at and it's an entertaining night out - just not up to the high standards of some of the Crucible's recent output.
Hobson's Choice is at The Crucible, Sheffield until June 25.